Monday, 4 February 2019

Don't label your thinking!

‘Untitled No.2 for Piano and Large Orchestra’ is a very original work written by the composer James Clark. The inspiration for its unusual ‘title’ comes from the work of 20th century abstract artists, many of whom (including Jackson Pollock) left paintings untitled. 

Clark is inviting his listeners to free themselves from the perceptual chains of a particular title or label and to listen to his music with an open mind. He could have called his piece a concerto, but an audience of concert-goers presented with such a historically resonant title would have been strongly tempted to judge what they were hearing against concertos written by other composers.

If an audience were to judge Clark’s piece in terms of a traditional concerto, they would at best find it confusing and at worst find it wanting. Traditional concertos are very much display pieces for the soloist and focus on the interplay and contrast between the soloist and the orchestra. Clark’s piece, although technically demanding for all involved, is not constructed in the same way. It combines rather than contrasts the sounds of piano and orchestra to create a vibrantly colourful unity of sounds rather than a sparkling spectrum of competing sounds.

Labelling our thinking too early can limit the ways in which we perceive and address new challenges. Sometimes, we can be too quick to associate new issues and problems with past experiences and previous solutions. As a consequence, we can find ourselves addressing new challenges in old ways: ways that cannot be easily adapted to the demands of current situations and contexts.

The next time you are faced with a new challenge or problem, do not be too keen to label or categorise it; keep your experience in reserve for a while. Ask yourself what is new, different or unique about it. Take time to understand it on its own terms rather than immediately labelling it with past associations and the assumptions that accompany them. This way you will open up new avenues of thought that can lead you towards new and innovative solutions tailored to your current challenges.

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